The Old Man in the Hat Comes Back

by William H. Duquette

An epic poem, with apologies and compliments to Doctors Tolkien and Seuss.

We had no time for adventures
We had smoke-rings to tend.
It was time for some pipeweed
At the door of Bag End.

When old Bilbo left town
With a bang for a joke,
He said we should always 
Think of him and smoke.
“Somebody, SOMEBODY 
Has to, you see.”
Then he picked out two somebodies, 
Samwise and me.

There we were,
We were smoking like that
And then who should come up
But the old MAN IN THE HAT!

“Oh, no,” Samwise said,
“Don’t stay here on the mat.
That old man is a bad one,
That man in the hat.
He’s lost lots of young hobbits.
Don’t you let him come near.
You know who he took
The last time he was here.” 

“Taking hobbits?” the man laughed,
“Oh, my, my! No, no, no.
There are just one or two facts
That I’d like to know.
So sit there and smoke
While we talk about things
Like your good uncle Bilbo
And the location of Rings.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, 
“That we can’t stay and chat.”
And a smile crossed the lips
Of the Old Man in the Hat.
Came a bang and a flash
And I knew nothing more
Till we woke up in Bree
With Black Wraiths at the door.

Awakened we were
By a long-legged bloke
With a weather-creased face
And a funny green cloak.
“You’ll have to move quickly,”
The weathered bloke said,
“If you don’t want to wind up
Beheaded in bed.

“The hat man just couldn’t
Be with you today.
But I’ll help you out,
I am Ranger Man A.
I dwell in the wilds,
In forest and fen,
But I come back to Bree
For a wash now and then.”

Sam didn’t like him,
But what could we do?
Of pipes we had plenty,
But of weapons, too few.
Pipeweed is potent,
It’s powerful stuff
But it isn’t much use
Against wraiths playing rough.

The Ranger Man told us
Just how to proceed
As we got our belongings
And our pouches of weed.
“You can’t ignore Wraiths,
It’s not good for your health.
The way you get Wraiths
Off your tail is by stealth!”

So we tried to be secret.
We tried to be stealthy.
We wandered through swamps
That I’m sure were not healthy.
And the wet! O the wet!
I felt just like a newt!
Sam had moss in his hair,
And mildew on each foot.

Just when Sam and I thought
We would never get dry,
Our ranger man said,
“The Great Road is close by.
The Black Wraiths will be near,”
Said the A man to me,
“This is where is we must cross,
And I hope they won’t see.”

But although we used stealth
The Black Wraiths were not slowed.
There were five of the things
Keeping watch on the Road.
We jogged on with great care,
We climbed out of the damp,
And the wraiths were upon
Us before we made camp.

“Escaping these wraiths
Will be hard,” said our guide.
“I can’t do it alone,
I must swallow my pride.
At least I have someone 
To help me,” he said, 
“Right here in my hat
On the top of my head.

“This is Elven-lord G,
And I keep him about,
And when I need help,
Then I let him come out.”
And there on the top 
Of his head stood an elf.
It’s hard to believe,
Though I say so myself.

The elf looked around
From his spot on A’s head.
“You’ve got a bad case
of the Wraiths,” the elf said.
“These Wraiths are a problem.
They stick to you like glue.
And you can’t knock ’em loose
Once they have you in view.

“So if you’ve got Wraiths,
The best thing’s a fast steed.
The way to get Wraiths
Off your tail is by speed!
Now be off,” said the elf,
“You’ve no reason to stay.”
He swept off his hat,
“This is Elven-horse A.”

“Not A!” cried out Sam,
“That’s the Ranger Man’s name.
We can’t have two As!
They can’t both be the same.”
“We’ve no time for your quibbles!”
The Ranger Man yelled.
“It’s his fleetness that matters,
Not how his name’s spelled!”

I don’t know just how,
But A got the horse down,
And he put us on top,
And he said with a frown,
“Now ride for the fords,
Ride fast and don’t stop it,
Or the wraiths they will catch you
And dine on smoked hobbit!”

Then Elven-horse A
Shot away like an arrow,
And we raced through the trees
But our lead was too narrow.
Sam held on with both hands,
And I cried for more speed,
And I wished I was home
With a pipe full of weed.

We crossed over the fords
And we both held on tight,
And when we touched shore
The whole river ran white!

The Wraiths were swept under,
Their horses were gone!
“They won’t be back soon,”
Said a voice, with a yawn.
“Black wraiths are no problem,
They can’t abide mud.
The way to get wraiths 
Off your tail’s with a flood!”

The voice was attached 
To an elf on the bank.
He lowered his hands
As the floodwaters shrank.
“You don’t know who I am
(And there’s so much to tell!);
I am Elrond Half-Elven.
–My friends call me L.”

“But he cannot be L,”
Sam said, “That cannot be.
If this horse here is A,
Then he ought to be E!”

“That is true,” said the Elf,
“You are wise, for a Sam.
But E was my sire,
And also my dam.
There already were two
In my family named E,
So my parents chose L
For my brother and me.”

(Sadly, I never took it any further.)